PARTI Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Member of Parliament (MP) for the Kulim-Bandar Baru constituency Zulkifli Nordin has been in the headlines, and some say for all the wrong reasons. Many remain horrified by his participation in the storming of the 9 Aug 2008 Bar Council forum on conversion. His own party is contemplating disciplinary action against him, and he is now apologetic about the manner in which he protested. However, he remains adamant that he will continue to defend Islam.
Rumours have also been circulating that the Kedah-born, New Zealand-educated MP might be crossing over to Umno because his recent public statements echo Umno’s position on Islam.
Known for not mincing his words, Zulkifli sat down with The Nut Graph in Parliament on 4 Nov for this exclusive interview. In this, the first part, he talks about the Bar Council incident, the impending disciplinary action by his own party, and some aspects of the country’s electoral politics.
TNG: You have clarified many times that you protested the Bar Council forum on conversion in your capacity as exco of Peguam Pembela Islam (PPI), not as a PKR MP. Do you feel that you are unable to advocate Islamic issues under the PKR banner?
Zulkifli: That’s two separate issues. First, the Bar Council issue — I made it very clear from the beginning, even on the day that it happened, that I represented PPI. In fact, I specifically mentioned that I was not there as a PKR MP. That has been explained to even (PKR advisor) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Now, talking about PKR — PKR is a new but dynamic party that allows a lot of room for differences of opinion. So far, I have not encountered any problem with regard to the Islamic issues that I brought up, either with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim — especially with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim — or even with the others.
So I don’t agree with the view that PKR doesn’t allow any discourse or argument or point based on Islamic issues. They do allow it. Maybe it’s the manner of doing things that they are against, but not the substance. Especially Islamic issues within the context of the constitution.
The Nut Graph spoke to (PKR deputy president and disciplinary committee head) Dr Syed Husin Ali, who said that PKR will take action against you this November for your actions at the Bar Council forum. If PKR takes disciplinary action against you, what will you do? Will you consider joining another party?
PKR, [or] for that matter any party, or any organisation, has every right to take action against its members. That is a fundamental right of any organisation. So, PKR has every right, if they feel I have infringed certain rules, certain regulations, or certain policies of the party, to take action. And I have every right to defend the action that I have taken. So, it depends what’s the basis of the disciplinary action. Does it go to the core of the Islamic cause, or is it the manner of doing it? This I want to know.
At the moment, PKR is concerned about the Bar Council issue. They’ve narrowed it down to the Bar Council issue, not the Islamic cause that I am fighting. So I’m quite okay with that. If they happen to take some measures against me by virtue of that, so be it. That’s their right.
But if they start touching on the Islamic cause, Islamic issues, and they take action on the bigger issue of Islamic cause, then we may have to rethink or we have to come up with a clear guideline or agenda. On the Islamic cause, [on matters of] Islamic nature, what is the stand of PKR?
At the moment what I understand is that disciplinary action taken against me is narrowed down to the incident at the Bar Council, so it doesn’t touch on the Islamic issue at all. And I defended the action, saying I was there not as a PKR member, so [the disciplinary action] doesn’t touch on the Islamic issue. Unless they touch on the Islamic issue, then it’s different story.
In your 26 Oct 2008 interview with Mingguan Malaysia, you were asked about your exchange with Khalid Abdul Samad (PAS – Shah Alam). You were quoted as saying that Khalid should have supported you in your position on Islam when you brought it up. If there are differences of opinion within the Pakatan Rakyat about Islam, how do you think these should be discussed in the coalition?
First, the respective parties must come up with their own stand. This we don’t have at the moment. What he have are common issues between the individual parties — PAS, PKR, and DAP. Issues against corruption, issues against human rights [violations], and we have a common enemy, that is the Barisan Nasional. But on Islamic issues, there is no clear stand by the respective parties. So I think each party has to come up with its own stand first, and then we’ll have to sit down to come up with a common stand.
At the moment there is none, except for a statement that the Pakatan Rakyat respects the status of Islam within the constitutional context. That is the general stand. But on the specific issues, when we have issues like [the] Bar Council [forum], how do we react?
So I think it’s time — as I said in reply to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s statement that day asking me to give an explanation — that we come up with a clear agenda on Islamic issues and the Islamic cause. Otherwise it will continue creating problems.
In the Mingguan Malaysia interview, at one point you said you are Muslim first and foremost, everything else is second. Why then didn’t you make the choice to join PAS? Why join PKR? When did you join PKR?
In fact, I am a PAS member.
Oh, you are a PAS member?
I am a PAS member. When the (general) election was called, I was asked to take the Kulim-Bandar Baru seat, which is a PKR seat. So when you stand as PKR in Kulim-Bandar Baru, naturally you have to be with them, with [Parti Keadilan Rakyat]. I have no qualms about [stating] that.
So you are a PAS member who stood under a PKR ticket?
During the elections. But I am now a PKR member. By virtue of standing as a candidate under the PKR banner, I became, by the consensus of PAS and PKR, a member of PKR.
Police and the media outside the Bar Council building in Kuala
Lumpur on 9 Aug 2008, the day of the forum on conversion (Pic by
Seira Sacha)To clarify, you have active membership in both PAS and PKR?
No, now PKR.
So you were with PAS before. How long were you with PAS?
For quite some time.
No, much earlier.
So you were a member of PAS all this while; then you decided to run in Kulim-Bandar Baru under PKR. And since your victory on 8 March, you joined PKR.
In fact, when I was offered the seat, when I was asked to stand in Kulim-Bandar Baru as a PKR member, we had a discussion, and at that time we decided I should join PKR.
This is a bit of a naughty question. I hope you will still answer it. Why do you think Umno withdrew their election petition against you?
The statement was made that they withdrew it in the interest of the country. Datuk Seri Anwar said what that means is that they don’t want any by-election. After being demolished in Permatang Pauh, I don’t think they can afford any by-election, especially with the transition of power. So I think they want the status quo to remain. I’m just lucky to have been there at the right time, that’s all.
But we were prepared to go on with the case, you know. We had enough evidence to rebut. It’s God’s will, you see. Maybe it’s to reward me, I don’t know (chuckles).
Tomorrow – Part II: “There is no compulsion in religion”